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In January, the Reader will publish its 15th annual Pure Fiction issue, a collection of short stories submitted by mostly local fiction writers paired with illustrations by mostly local artists. This year, we'll take submissions until November 15.
Here's last year's issue, with the winning stories selected by guest curator Barrie Jean Borich, author of Body Geographic, editor of the literary journal Slag Glass City, and a DePaul University faculty member.
Please send submissions to firstname.lastname@example.org. We're reasonably flexible on length, but up to 3,000 words is preferred. Multiple submissions are accepted. We pay for those we publish.
And if you are published, you'll join the ranks of some exceptional writers. Our fiction issue archive includes pieces by Gina Frangello, Ben Greenman, Jonathan Messinger, Anne Elizabeth Moore, and even some in-house Reader talent—Tony Adler, J.R. Jones, and Philip Montoro.
Pure Fiction's most recent success is Jessie Ann Foley, a Chicago Public Schools English teacher who had work in the 2010 and 2012 issues. That first story, "The Carnival at Bray," about a teen girl uprooted from Chicago when her family moves to Ireland, became the opening chapter in her debut novel of the same name published earlier this month by Elephant Rock Books.
Back when she saw the call for submissions for the 2010 issue, Foley was writing under her maiden name, Morrison, and was pursuing an MFA in fiction writing at Columbia College. But she quietly feared she was wasting her time, effort, and money. "I didn't know if what I was doing was any good or not," she says. "So getting published in the Reader was huge. It came at a time when I was like, If I get another rejection . . . " She pauses. "It came at a time when I really needed some validation."
Toward the end of her writing program, Foley met with an agent while she was shopping around a story collection. "He said, 'I love it, but no one's going to publish it,'" she says. His advice: write a novel. Foley's professor Don De Grazia recommended she flesh out "Carnival," which he felt was "more of a chapter one."
Foley's advice to writers hemming and hawing about whether to submit? "It's worth a shot," she says. "There have been years when I submitted and got rejected. As a writer, you're going to be rejected all the time. But you never know."
She still remembers seeing her name in the Reader's bold byline typeface. "I was living in Old Irving Park at the time. It was a freezing winter day, and I woke up and walked over to Smoque because I knew it stocked copies. I flipped through, found my story, and was like, This is awesome! It reassured me that I was doing the right thing with my life."